Leveraging Landscape to Promote Healthy Behaviors In Rural Communities

Rural communities in the United States face many public health issues, including a high prevalence of physical inactivity, obesity, and higher risks for major non-communicable diseases. A lack of safe and convenient places to exercise appear to intensify healthy lifestyle disparities.

With these kinds of disparities, healthcare providers are increasingly writing prescriptions for additional physical activity. For landscape architects and designers working in healthcare and related fields, this raises a question of whether we can use the landscape to help improve the behaviors and outcomes associated with these prescriptions.

I recently conducted a study of the effect of evidence-based landscape interventions at a rural “wellness hub.” This was a space that integrated walking trails and therapeutic landscape features at a healthcare clinic’s site in the Central Appalachian Region. Did these kinds of design features contribute to the effectiveness of the call for physical activity?

My co-authors and I just published our findings in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Drawing on survey and interview data, we were able to identify a variety of ways that landscape interventions can help to improve the health of patients and local communities.

In addition to particularly effective landscape elements (for instance, walking paths), we also stress the value of participatory design to ensure that the landscape intervention works in concert with existing cultural values and practices.



Read more about what we found in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health here.

woman with black hair smilingShan Jiang, PH.D., International ASLA is GBBN’s Director of Research. An established researcher, educator, and thought leader, she has published dozens of articles in peer-reviewed journals, presented at conferences, and recently published a full monograph with Routledge on therapeutic landscapes, healthcare design, and sustainable community development. At GBBN, Shan leads firm-wide research efforts, helping design teams in all markets conduct research while drawing on the best, established research to inform their work.